It’s 2014. By now, it’s become very clear to Americans that smoking is utterly horrendous for your health. The smoking rate among adults and teens in the United States has been steadily declining since the 1950’s, when 44 percent of Americans smoked—now the rates are steadily declining from 18 percent, dropping nearly one percent each year. The rates have been falling for teens as well. In fact, just fourteen years ago 23 percent of teens were smoking, while currently only 9 percent of teenagers in America smokes. That’s an incredible decline, due in part to TheTruth.com—an anti-tobacco campaign that has recently rebranded to make the final push towards a completely tobacco-free generation.
While tobacco popularity is declining thanks to regulations against smoking, anti-smoking advertising campaigns, and increased knowledge of the dangers—we’re not out of the woods yet, especially when it comes to secondhand smoke. Smokers make a choice to smoke. However, if you’re living with, or working close to, a smoker—you don’t always have a choice and you should be aware of the dangers surrounding simply inhaling someone’s else’s secondhand smoke.
What is secondhand smoke?
Secondhand smoke (SHS) is the mixture of gasses and fine particles that includes the smoke from the burning tobacco product (sidestream smoke), as well as the smoke that has been exhaled by the individual smoking (mainstream smoke). Believe it or not, when you’re inhaling SHS you’re breathing in nearly the same amount of chemicals as the smoker—4,000 different chemical compounds, more than 250 of which are toxic, with about 50 included that are known to cause cancer.
Who is it most harmful for?
While anyone that spends time around a smoker has an increased chance of developing an illness related to smoking, certain segments or our population are particularly susceptible.
Young children often don’t have the choice to leave a smoky room, leaving them especially vulnerable to the health risks of SHS. Kids who are routinely exposed to SHS have an increased chance of:
- SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)
- Slow or incomplete lung development
- Frequent colds and respiratory infections
- Chronic coughing
- Poor dental health
- High blood pressure
Both the expectant mother and the unborn baby are harmed by SHS. It decreases the amount of oxygen available to mother and baby, increases the baby’s heart rate, and increases the likelihood that the baby will be born prematurely and/or underweight. Exposure to smoke during pregnancy significantly increases the risk of:
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Placenta previa (low lying placenta)
- Placenta abruption
What can be done?
Obviously if you’re a smoker, quit. While in the process of quitting, make sure you:
- Never smoke in your home—even in a separate bedroom or bathroom. Smoking anywhere in a home or apartment pollutes all the air in the building. Even if you can’t smell it, cigarette smoke can still harm, so don’t think you’re being clever with fans and air purifiers. Lastly, even when nobody else is home—don’t smoke inside. Smoke from a single cigarette can stay in a room for hours.
- Never smoke in your car, even with the window down.
- Keep your kids away from smoke. Ask caregivers not to smoke around your children and ensure their daycare or childcare is smoke-free.